- Associated Press - Friday, June 1, 2018

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Democratic former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich is running for governor of Alaska, complicating Gov. Bill Walker’s re-election bid.

Begich made his plans official shortly before a Friday filing deadline. Before the announcement, Walker, an independent, said he would skip the Democratic primary and gather signatures to appear on the general election ballot in November.

A recent court ruling allowed independents to run in the Democratic primary if they want the party’s backing. Walker was elected in 2014 with Democratic support.

Begich said in an email to supporters that he waited so long to decide to run because his family was a big consideration. He has a son in high school and recalled losing his father at a young age. But Begich said his family decided “nothing would be as hard as sitting back and watching our state continue to struggle.”

He cited concerns with high unemployment rates, crime and “years of out of control state spending,” but did not delve into any policy proposals.

Walker said there’s a long road to the November election, “and I have no interest in criticizing anyone for stepping up to serve their state.” The election will provide “a historically unique choice,” he said.

“I appreciate the folks who worked hard to try to find a way to make this a two-way race. I understand that made things simpler from a strategic and technical perspective,” Walker said. “But I can tell you that I am as excited as I’ve ever been. I am an Alaskan before I am anything else.”

The governor said he likes his chances.

On the Republican side, former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell shook things up by jumping into the race Friday. He joins a list of candidates seeking the GOP nod, including former state Sen. Mike Dunleavy, who is known for his conservative views, and businessman Scott Hawkins.

In an email to supporters, Treadwell said many Alaskans were dissatisfied with their choices leading to the filing deadline. In an interview, the former chairman of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission said his experience sets him apart, citing work with the fishing, Alaska Native and science communities.

State Rep. Mike Chenault of Nikiski dropped his bid for the GOP nomination, citing personal reasons and “other reasons I would rather not discuss.”

One of Walker’s goals was to run as a team with Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, a Democrat. Walker changed his party affiliation from Republican to undeclared in 2014 in joining forces with Mallott as part of a so-called unity ticket to upset then-Gov. Sean Parnell, a Republican.

Skipping the primary ensures they can run together. Winners of the party primaries for governor and lieutenant governor get paired up for the general election.

The defining issue of the race will be “who’s done what,” Walker said, citing efforts to shrink the state’s budget deficit, bills to address crime and the expansion of Medicaid to cover more lower-income Alaskans as achievements.

Begich, a former Anchorage mayor, eked out a win over longtime Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens in 2008. Begich served one term in the Senate, losing a hard-fought, high-profile race to Republican Dan Sullivan in 2014.

His father, Nick Begich, was Alaska’s lone congressman when the plane carrying him and House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, a Louisiana Democrat, vanished en route to Juneau in 1972.

Begich told supporters last summer he was considering a run for governor, after being encouraged to do so. He said he loved the consulting work he took up after his Senate defeat and spending more time with family.

He has spoken out on Twitter on policy issues, including support for Medicaid expansion and funding for Planned Parenthood. At times, he also has jabbed at state leaders and Sullivan.

But he hadn’t said much publicly about his intentions to run for governor.

One major issue in the race is likely to be the future of the yearly check that Alaskans receive from the state’s oil-wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund. Dunleavy already has sought to distinguish himself from Walker on that issue.

Faced with legislative gridlock over how to address the state’s budget deficit two years ago, Walker halved the size of the check, prompting an unsuccessful lawsuit from a Democratic state senator.

Since then, amid ongoing debate over resolving the deficit, the statutory formula for calculating the check hasn’t been followed, prompting outrage from more conservative Republicans and from some Democrats.

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